IN a time of austerity, making the most of what you have is more important then ever. Seeking out bargains is one way to help stretch the pennies, but increasingly people are looking to breathe new life into old objects by transforming them into something new.
It is green and it is economical, so there is little wonder the new trend of “upcycling” is sweeping the Capital.
The premise is simple. You take an unwanted product and adapt it in some way to add value and give it a new lease of life. The purpose is to reduce waste and improve the efficiency of resource use – and you get some unique and quirky designs to boot.
Anything can be upcycled, from a bicycle wheel to an old pair of curtains, creating an alternative coffee table or an iPad cover.
Alan Hartley, 50, recently opened a store in North Berwick, boasting re-modelled furniture, tools, art and even paint, which has already proved a hit with locals.
He buys old stock from people who might otherwise take it to the tip and then transforms it into something original. As nearly everything is recycled or reused, it allows him to keep costs down and sell on the products at prices that do not cost the earth.
With a background in manufacturing, Alan says he was always interested in production and how materials could be used beyond their intended purpose.
“It probably started as a hobby and got a bit out of control, but the response has been amazing since we opened eight weeks ago,” he says.
“I think it’s topical because it’s recycled, it’s vintage and because people are a bit hard up at the moment.
“They want to buy things a bit cheaper than in the shops or they may want to sell something for the cash.
“We are keen to make things into other things. If someone gives us a piece of furniture then it could be something that was just going to end up at the dump.
“Instead, it is upcycled into something new and they get a bit of money which is good.
“The whole thing is anti-landfill inspired. We are trying to stop people taking things and giving them to the dump. Once they go there they can’t get them back and there’s so many materials that go to waste.”
He and wife Rhona recraft anything, from old wooden pallets to piano stools to sell in their Saturday shop.
The business has become the first in the area to stock recycled paint, which at £7 for a 2.5 litre tin of white emulsion is arguably better value than the high street.
The paint mostly comprises unopened tins from manufacturers who are changing their range, or tins past their use-by dates, which are then processed into different colours.
Not far from the sea, the business also uses some of nature’s offerings to create unique furniture.
“We have driftwood that comes off the beach which we’ve combined with cutlery to make coat hooks and door handles to make a coat stand,” Alan explains.
“The quirkier the item, the more interest it creates.
“The whole point is that it’s inexpensive, so you can churn stock over and when you come in there will always be something different. It’s not a boring shop full of MDF. We want quality items you can break up and make into something else.”
The craze is not limited to furnishings, however, with the idea now moving over to local fashion designers.
Godiva, one of Edinburgh’s independent boutiques, upcycles many of its vintage lines of clothing to create modern takes on old fashions.
Unconventional, innovative and liberated, the West Port shop prides itself on striving against “fast food fashion” to provide a truly unique alternative.
Owner Fleur MacIntosh set up shop ten years ago and found upcycling was the perfect way to get the most out of her stock.
“I found a lot of the time, some vintage clothes were damaged or ill-fitted or were the wrong shape or style,” she says.
“I wanted to get the best out of the product and breathe new life into the stock and that’s where upcyling came in.
“I went up to the art college and gave students the challenge of recycling the vintage clothes into something new. It was amazing how creative they were.
“It became an ongoing trend and very popular to upcycle and people have some really excellent ideas.”
Skirts, dresses, belts and bags have been carefully reworked into stunning individual pieces that are guaranteed to give wearers an exclusive look.
In addition to its own designs, the boutique stocks hand-picked, quality vintage clothing and accessories from a team of talented independent designers, many of whom are keen upcyclers.
Death by Diamond and Pearl is one such local designer which makes bow brooches and collars from vintage clothing and fabrics.
Even vintage typewriter keys, combined with old and new charms, are used to make beautiful bracelets and necklaces in some of the stand-out jewellery on display.
Shop assistant and photographer Jenny Hazel says upcycling allows people to be even more creative and avoid following trends.
And, she adds, the concept fitted in well with their ideology.
“Our shop is about ethical clothing, that’s our ethos. You can use the lovely, vintage fabrics and transform them into something new.
“We upcycle some of the maxi dresses that are a bit full-on with 70s print by taking the bottom off them so they are more wearable.
“Then we turn the bottom into skirts of their own, so you’re really getting the most out of the material.
“We stock leather bags made out of old leather clothes. They have a really nice feel to them because they are already worn in.
“It also ensures all of the designs are one-offs.”